Demjanjuk: ‘Ivan the Bloody’

December 16, 2008

On November 10, 2008, the top Nazi hunter in Germany requested Munich prosecutors to seek extradition of Ivan “John” Demjanjuk, with the intention of trying the Ukrainian-turned-American for his role in the Holocaust. Demjanjuk is accused in the deaths of 29,000 Jews at Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in Poland where he was a guard. (AP report, Buffalo News, November 11, 2008.)

In 1986, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, where he spent seven years in custody and was tried as the infamous “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka death camp. I became involved in August 1987, when his family urged me to prove that the Nazi identification card was a forgery or that its photograph depicted a different man. Instead, I found further evidence of the card’s authenticity, and identification experts I consulted proved that the photograph was indeed that of Ivan Demjanjuk. (For example, a forensic anthropologist concluded that the facial features were consistent, including an enlarged right orbit [eye socket], and an identification expert matched ear configurations.)

Nevertheless, Demjanjuk had defenders—not all of whom were “Holocaust revisionists,” Nazi apologists, or conspiracy theorists. When doubts were raised about which of two Ivans was the legendary mass-murderer at Treblinka, the Israeli high court set Demjanjuk free.

I became reinvolved in the case when I was contacted by agents of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). I shared my files and produced an affidavit of October 5, 2000, for U.S. District Court in Ohio. In 2002, a U.S. District Court judge stripped Demjanjuk of his American citizenship for lying about his participation in war crimes. That was proven by his Nazi identification card—which placed him at a guard-training camp and as a guard at Sobibor death camp—as well as much additional evidence, including a Nazi SS tattoo which he had had removed, and the confession of a fellow Sobibor guard. (See my   Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past , University Press of Kentucky, 2005, chapter 4.)

Clearly established evidence shows that Demjanjuk was a roving Nazi death-camp guard—if not “Ivan the Terrible” at Treblinka, certainly Ivan the Bloody at Sobibor. At age 88, he continues to try to run out the clock on justice.